A MONSTER LIKE ME, by Wendy S. Swore, Shadow Mountain Publishing, March 5, 2019, Hardcover, $16.99 (ages 8-11)
What is a monster? Does they have long fingers with snakes for hair? Do they live in disguise amongst everyone else? Are they secretly plotting to take over the world? In A Monster Like Me, by Wendy S. Swore, a girl learns the term monster is more nuanced than she thought.
Sophie is a monster expert. Thanks to her Big Book of Monsters and her vivid imagination, Sophie can identify the monsters in her school and neighborhood. Clearly, the bullies are trolls and goblins. Her nice neighbor must be a good witch, and Sophie’s new best friend is obviously a fairy.
But what about Sophie? She’s convinced she is definitely a monster because of the monster mark on her face. At least that’s what she calls it. The doctors call it a blood tumor. Sophie tries to hide it but it covers almost half her face. And if she’s a monster on the outside, then she must be a monster on the inside, too.
Being the new kid at school is hard. Being called a monster is even harder. Sophie knows that it’s only a matter of time before the other kids, the doctors, and even her mom figure it out. And then her mom will probably leave just like her dad did.
Because who would want to live with a real monster? —Synopsis provided by Shadow Mountain Publishing
I’ve had a bit of a hard time reviewing A Monster Like Me. On the one hand, my first impression was that of a well-written book about a girl who harnesses her imagination in coping with what she considers a facial deformity. On the other hand, there have been some rumblings about the misrepresentation of indigenous peoples, and American Indians in Children’s Literature is not recommending it.
I’m a white woman, so that’s the lens I’m looking through. However, this has made me question when is it OK to take a culture’s myths or stories — or pieces of them — and when is it not? Is there a time limit or are some peoples more off limits than others? I don’t know the answer, but it’s worth thinking about.
In the case of A Monster Like Me, I get the feeling that the author genuinely meant nothing malicious and did do her research. And, while set in Portland, Ore., the monsters and mythical stories seem to stem from multiple cultures from around the world.
I also feel like as adults we see things from the points of view of adults and not the children in the books we read/review. Any parent can tell you that just a few words to a child, particularly a child who is vulnerable, can take on a life of their own. That is exactly the case with Sophie.
Beyond what I’ve mentioned above, I found A Monster Like Me to be a strong middle grade novel — though somewhat heavy in tone. Sophie feels like a young character, but the book definitely skews a little older based on content.
Sophie is a likeable character whose introverted/isolated nature may be off-putting for some readers. For that reason, Autumn, Sophie’s friend, is a breath of fresh air. Her bright, sprightly nature is perfectly in keeping with Sophie’s assessment that Autumn is actually a fairy in disguise.
A Monster Like Me isn’t without its flaws. At times, it feels like there maybe is too much going on — trouble in school, bullying, her mother’s new boyfriend, a friend’s brother who’s dying. I know life is messy, but all that combined with all the imaginative monster elements sometimes feels cluttered. Still, Wendy S. Swore is a strong writer who, for the most part, pulls everything together in the end.
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